Tiffany Times Three

The Cayuga Museum is home to this tall decorative floral window. Photo courtesy Cayuga Museum/Case Research Lab

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s exquisite stained-glass windows, marble and glass mosaics, iridescent vases, lamps and other furnishings can be found throughout the Finger Lakes Region. Tiffany (1848-1933) was the eldest son of Charles Lewis Tiffany of the famed jewelry and silver store. The younger Tiffany began as a painter, but is remembered for his interior decoration for homes, churches and public buildings at the turn of the last century. A pilgrimage to three prominent Auburn landmarks will reward the visitor with three distinctly different examples of Tiffany designs.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

“We love to show it off,” said the Rev. Philip Windsor of the large Tiffany window at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on William Street in Auburn.

As the door to the church sanctuary swings open, one’s eyes are drawn to the large colorful landscape window at the far end of the chancel. Created in 1910, the serene composition includes blue, yellow, mauve, green and brown pieces of glass. A mottled sky is illuminated by a rainbow, which was not easily visible until a recent cleaning. Hills and trees frame tranquil bodies of water, enlivened by blooming purple irises. Words from the 23rd Psalm, “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,” are inscribed along with the dedication in the foreground.

The founding of the Westminster Presbyterian Church dates to 1861, with the cornerstone of the present sanctuary laid in 1869 on land acquired from William Seward, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state. His daughter-in-law, Janet Seward, gifted the window, considered a prime example of Tiffany’s landscape windows, in memory of her mother, one of the church’s early members.

Prior to September 2011 visitors saw a different view of the “Rainbow Window.” During the process of rebuilding its weakened frame, Jerome Durr, a Syracuse glass expert, cleaned the window, removing the buildup of coal soot and soil. “But as projects go, this one evolved into redoing the whole sanctuary,” explained Rev. Windsor.

The church interior, including the wainscoting and plaster décor, was repainted to replicate a darker color scheme appropriate to the 1910 era when the window was installed. Drapes and a large cross that had hung in front of the window since the 1960s were removed. Swiatek Studios, a Buffalo firm that specializes in church restorations, carried out much of the work. A striking pattern combines Celtic knots shaped in a cross, floral motifs and oak leaves adorns the archway that surrounds the window. The creation of Bret Swiatek, the design was inspired by early pictures of the church, elements found in other designs in the sanctuary, and décor at the Willard Memorial Chapel. The restoration was completed in time to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary.

Willard Memorial Chapel

“It’s a privilege to oversee it,” said Kathleen Walker, who has served as the executive director of the Willard Memorial Chapel for the past 12 years. The Chapel and adjoining Welch Memorial Building are what remains of the Auburn Theological Seminary established in 1818. The educational facility prepared pastors and missionaries until it relocated to New York City in 1939. The Willard Chapel was built and furnished in memory of Dr. Sylvester Willard and his wife, Jane Frances Case Willard, by their daughters Georgiana and Caroline Willard from 1892 to 1894.

Today the Community Preservation Committee, a not-for-profit historic preservation organization, owns the Willard Chapel. The chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005. It boasts a rare example of a totally Tiffany-designed religious interior.

“It was assembled piece-by-piece-by-piece,” said Marcia Walsh of the chapel’s mosaic floor. Walsh, who leads tours of the 2,600-square-foot chapel, admits the floor is one of her favorite features. She also enjoys seeing “the Christ and Peter window at noon on a sunny winter day,” referring to a three-paneled window high on the back wall above a bronze and mosaic tablet. The gilt memorial plaque, signed by J. H. Holzer, a prominent Tiffany craftsman, includes figures that personify Faith, Hope and Charity.

Tiffany’s studio produced a variety of glass. At the Auburn chapel “hammered glass,” in the shape of a cross, protrudes from two of the 14 opalescent nave windows. The other 12 are more abstract with swirling colors created within the glass. Above the organ is a nine-paneled rose window. Exotic chandeliers illuminate hand-carved oak furnishings, a stenciled pulpit, chairs and ceiling. Over time, with repainting, some details – such as stenciling on the organ’s pipes – have been nearly lost.

“We realized Christ has sandals,” laughed Kathleen Walker, describing what was revealed after the cleaning of the three-paneled “Christ and Peter” window. Restoration of the chapel is ongoing. “In 2012, we plan to reveal original decoration and colors of a six-foot area of the chapel walls by carefully removing existing layers of paint and investigating the presence of any stippling, glazes, gilding, washes or dry brushing,” she said. Using that information, a decorative sample will be executed that replicates the original colors and decorative scheme.

The chapel has at times struggled to survive. A “Save the Chapel” campaign led by the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) in 1989 challenged the threat of imminent dismantlement. In 1990 the CPC purchased the Willard Chapel, and today it functions as a center of social and cultural activity for the community. Revenue from memberships, grants, donations, fundraisers, concerts and many weddings help to maintain the chapel for future generations.

Cayuga Museum 

Georgiana and Caroline Willard who funded the Willard Chapel had earlier commissioned a tall decorative floral window from the Tiffany firm for their family’s Genesee Street home.

Today the impressive Greek Revival mansion which dates to 1836 (with later additions) has become the Cayuga Museum of History. It has a dual focus: local history and the invention of sound film. The site includes the Case Research Laboratory built on the foundation of the estate’s greenhouse. Willard E. Case, cousin of the sisters, inherited the mansion and estate with their passing. On this site in 1923 his son, Theodore E. Case invented the first commercially successful system of sound film. Additionally, a recently renovated carriage house on the property houses the Theater Mack.

The Cayuga Museum’s Tiffany window is found in the semicircular foyer of the mansion’s east wing. Situated between two doors that lead to curving exterior staircases, the wall with the window bows outward. Countless pieces of mauve, green and gold leaded glass compose a striking floral motif. A vine thick with petals and foliage climbs in a serpentine manner to the top of the divided window. In the bottom half of the window, an area of clear glass allows a view of the gardens, just as it did originally, explained Curator Lauren Chyle.

Eileen Hughes, the museum’s executive director, said the Tiffany window will remain in the same location and that it is slated for restoration in the future.

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Worth a Visit

These beautiful Tiffanies, still in their original settings, are located in close proximity. Visitors will be able to enjoy and compare their unique qualities with a minimum of travel between sites.

Cayuga Museum and Case Research Laboratory
203 Genesee Street
Auburn, NY 13021
315-253-8051
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m.
Closed January and major holidays.
Free; donations accepted.
www.cayuganet.org/cayugamuseum

Westminster Presbyterian Church
17 William St.
Auburn, NY 13021
315-253-3331
Services 9:30 a.m. Sundays.
Open weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., or stop at church office.
www.westminsterauburn.org

Willard Memorial Chapel
17 Nelson St.
Auburn, NY 13021
315-252-0339
January and February, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
March through December, Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Guided tours on the hour and group tours by appointment.
$4 fee
www.willardchapel.org


by Laurel C. Wemett